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About the new hospital

When this entry will be posted, I’ll most likely be hospitalised again, this time at least it will be a different hospital in a different city, in a different healthcare unit, with different doctors.

When I was hospitalised last year, I was at the main public hospital in Mestre at the time, the Umberto I (named after one of the Italian kings from our nation’s previous life – a bit of a controversial king too). During the time I was hospitalised, the work on Umberto I maintenance was quite reduced, and you could easily ell that by looking around. The reason for this was that a new hospital was to open in a matter of months, near Zelarino.

Indeed, the inauguration of the new hospital, that incidentally is just a couple of minutes by car from my house, happened just a couple of weeks before I was released, in September 2007.

During my whole hospitalisation, when something seemed substandard, or simply broken, the standard answer was “But you’d have to see with the new hospital!”. The ICU was still using CRTs? New hospital. The amount of computers and CRT monitors and laser printers turned on 24/7 amount to a good waste of energy? New hospital. The bells in the rooms don’t work correctly? New hospital. The six-beds room doesn’t have enough space to eat? New hospital. Air-conditioning doesn’t work – it’s either too high or too low? New hospital. And so on.

The features of the new hospital also started to be heard about: shops for the people coming to visit, an internal garden for patients to relax in even during Winter, rooms with maximum two beds, and in-room services, LCD TV in each room, and an entirely new Gastroenterology unit so that it won’t have to be shared with General Surgery.

But at the same time, gossips about the absolute failures of the new hospital arrived: very little space to move beds around in the rooms, CAT scan rooms designed without taking in consideration the movement of the little bed on the machine, the parking lot having to be paid for, not only by patients and visitors, but also from personnel, which also had, for what I was told at the time, to pay for the lockers in the locker room; and stuff like that. The opening, originally expected for January 2008, was moved down the line.

In March, I think, of this year, I had to go to the ER for my migraine, and I asked about the new hospital, since it hadn’t opened yet. I was told that with the rain, happened a few days before, the ER in the new hospital was flooded; which of course is not a good thing, and had to be tended to before opening. The doctors didn’t expect it to be open before June.

Indeed, this summer the new hospital opened, and more problems started to show up. People having to go to the various ambulatories in the new hospital lost themselves in the randomly-numbered maze of corridors, and as soon as the sun started to shine on the hospital, another huge fail started to show itself: the glass panels used to cover the “sail” of the new construction (that is designed to impress), were mounted inside out; instead of keeping the heat to enter with the light, they created a huge greenhouse.

When I was hospitalised at the end of July, I went to the new hospital, as the old one has closed down entirely, the ER being the last part of it. The structure of the new hospital is indeed impressive, and the equipment is all new. I’m not sure why they didn’t just use the newly-bought equipment in the old hospital too but that’s beside the point. The ER is totally new, it looks like the one from Scrubs or House. Luckily the doctor in the ER (new one, too) was also good. I was impressed to find a doctor speaking fluently both English and French; it’s news as the last time I visited the old ER, they tried to speak English so badly that I was almost tempted to stand up and translate for them, if I wasn’t in pain.

But the outstanding impression didn’t last long. While the new “observation” unit is really cool, both in equipment and personnel, the Gastroenterology unit was still merged with General Surgery (with all the problems coming from that), because there are a lot of staff members on vacation, and the corridors are too long for the reduced number of nurses to keep up with the three stations that the two units have. This also means that the nurses are always running, they take a huge lot of time to answer to calls, and they cannot just give patients enough attention, like the few words they could spare before so that you didn’t feel totally isolated (I didn’t suffer from this problem, I had my cellphone, and Internet connection, but I can understand the feeling). Also, something probably happened between the nurses, because some that were a bit cold and detached last year were now warm and caring, and one that last year was very positive and funny was now bitchy.

But it’s not just a staff problem. The new hospital has less beds than the old one, so patients are released as soon as they are able to stand around by themselves. Which is nice if you don’t want to stay, but it creates a bit of a problem, if they come home and then they have to come back to the hospital. It also means that there are always needs for new beds for people that come from the ER.

And the rooms haven’t really improved that much. Yes there are no more six beds bedrooms, which were quite a mess to stay in when all six the beds were filled, and a curtain was added so that the two patients can have a little more privacy, but there are still structural problems. First in all, the TVs are still missing, although there are the screws and the aerial connections for them, on the wall and ceiling, as well as having headphones connections on the nurse bell remote. But it gets worse. The windows were replaced with a huge glass panel; a fixed glass panel; you cannot just open the window to get a bad smell out; which is far from uncommon in a Gastroenterology Unit, especially when you’re put in the same room as an old man who just had surgery and cannot walk to the bathroom. Also, instead of good old manual blinds, they wanted to make something better, and put on automatic electric blinds, which supposedly should have closed automatically if there was too much sun; I’ll get back on these later. The air conditioning, that was a problem on the old hospital, was even worse here, as it was mostly off; if you add the increased heat because of the glass panels being mounted wrong, you can guess it wasn’t that good. And again, there are “night lights” to move around in the rooms, which are LED-based; but not white or “almost white” LEDs as you might fine in the nearest Chinese Dollar-store; not even the “calming” blue LEDs that I used to use myself; green LEDs, bright green LEDs. And the staff hasn’t learn to use them yet, so sometimes they are not turned on during the night and some other times they are left on during the day — yes of course it is NOT set on a timer.

Speaking about the electrical devices, on the old hospital, every Saturday morning, there was a blackout. Either some weekly test or something that was turned on blew a fuse, but it was there for as long as I was in the hospital, which was a long enough time; even when I returned to the ER on a Saturday morning, months later, the blackout was there.

On the new hospital this changed. Instead of limiting themselves to Saturday morning, the blackout happened every other night I was there; and not just once, but a few times. One night with my sister, we counted five short blackouts in about an hour, between 9pm and 10pm. It wouldn’t have been that bad if: a) when power goes out, the emergency lights turn on; these are fluorescent lights, in front of a tinfoil mirror system to increase the brightness, and they are basically on the eyes of the patient on the door-side of the room. Guess which side of the room I was? And not just that, but also the automated blinds reset themselves, and resetting themselves, they end up doing a huge amount of noise (as they open and close) and decide to stay open afterward, even if they started up being closed. So the blinds were almost never closed during the night; if it wasn’t for the curtain, I would have been woken up by the light from outside.

And this is still not all. The only table in the room, where patients could possibly do something that requires a stable surface, like eat, is along the “window”; but as the beds are put in parallel with the glass for obvious reasons, it falls entirely on the side of the room where just one patient is. The bathroom, on the other hand, is on the side of the door, which means that, during day and night, you’ll have to see the other patient going in and out of the bathroom.

The bathroom itself isn’t bad, it’s quite spacious, and there are good services. Unfortunately having one inside the room also means that you cannot choose between the less dirty stall, especially when you have an old dirty man as roommate.

Outside of the rooms, there has been other problems. The hospital is huge, and this means you have to walk quite a bit to reach the right place. The last morning I spent there I had to take an ultrasound. They asked me if I wanted to go with the wheelchair or if I could walk, and I gladly decided to walk, I didn’t do that in a week, I wanted to, but then I didn’t expect I had to walk through almost half the hospital size in length to find the right ambulatory; we arrived fifteen minutes later than expected. And it’s the same building (there are multiple buildings in the hospital).

What about the shops they opened? Well there’s a restaurant, that has its usefulness considering the time visitors might spend in the hospital to tend to a sick relative; there’s a cellular phones shop, which wouldn’t be bad at all if it wasn’t that it sells only Vodafone, and Vodafone does not cover all the rooms of the hospital (I can understand that if you have to leave a relative at the hospital because they’re sick and they didn’t have a cellphone, you’d gladly buy one even overpriced, without leaving the hospital, or if you have a rechargeable contract, and you need to recharge); and then there’s a para-pharmacy. If you’re not used to the term, it’s a pharmacy-lookalike that can only sell non-prescription medications; in this case this was an herbalist shop too; when the doctors don’t want to accept the existence of that at all. Now I can understand an herbalist shop in the hospital, myself; but why a para-pharmacy and not a full pharmacy? I expect more than half the people leaving the hospital with prescriptions for some meds, and it would be quite nice to be able to get them before going out.

I enquired about WiFi access, but it was not an option; someone said that it would be a problem with the machines around in the hospital. Someone even suggested I shouldn’t be using my cellphone at all, in the hospital (which makes the presence of a cellular phone store quite stupid then). Just to be clear, more than half of the staff – nurses and doctors – go around the hospital with their cellphone turned on, included the ICU and the “red area” of the ER; and for what concerns WiFi, the old DECT-based cordless phones used in the old hospital by the doctors to be reachable were now replaced with shiny new wireless VoIP phones (I didn’t get to see the producer); the coverage is provided by multiple Cisco access points all over the place.

All in all, there has been quite a few flaws with the new hospital too. And it became even worse because I was assigned a roommate under emergency rather than with a little consideration. A dirty (literally) old man, who spent the nights cursing (aloud), preventing me to sleep enough, who had relatives visiting who yelled so loudly, unable to use an handle (every time he got to the bathroom during the night he slammed the door, multiple times, – being new, the door wouldn’t close easily just being slammed – rather than using the handle), and totally inconsiderate of the fact of being in an hospital with a roommate (the last full day I spent there was hell: his wife brought him a radio, with no headphones, he turned it on during visiting time, so I took off with my friend to the tables outside the unit – tremendously hot but at least I wasn’t on the bed – but then he started it back at mid afternoon till 9pm! And just one nurse came in to ask him to lower it at least a bit, at 6pm — for a moment she thought it was me, but then I shown her I had my earphones on. During the night he decided he had to change his clothes at 3am! And wanted to turn on the light for that! He also had to call the nurses twice to know how to turn it on; considering they explained it the night before, and it’s far from difficult anyway; at least the first nurse plainly said that it was not something to do at that hour, the second was quite worse).

Hospitals are never fun, but they can even be worse when there are such issues…

Comments 1
  1. Did you hear anything of corruption, kickbacks etc in the awarding of the contract to build the hospital? From your description it is clear that a private company designed and exploits this hospital (project financing…). I was wondering whether the defects you described might be due to lack of transparency in the public procurement contract for the hospital in question.

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